Thoughts on Writing – Tightening Prose to Improve a Scene

Isaac and I are getting close to having all the edits made to our most recent version of Battle Decks, which reminded me that I needed to continue editing the blog series that goes with it. So, at the most recent writer’s club meeting, I decided to work on episode five of The Multiverse Chronicles rather than The Shadow War, which I’m currently doing  background plotting and research for. Since The Multiverse Chronicles will start coming out before that book, I didn’t mind putting The Shadow War on a temporary hold.

Anyway, there are three sections in episode five of The Multiverse Chronicles: Trials of Blood and Steel. The first section details interactions between a dejected pigeon, the taskmaster, and the general. The second deals with Trish and the colonel, and the third (the obligatory end-sequence at the end of the episode) with a group of airship pirates. The last two scenes I’m fairly happy with, and I’m ready to send to our beta reader. However, there’s something still irking me about the first section.

My instincts said that the scene dilly-dallied too long. So, after editing the general episode, I went back to the first scene and began looking for ways to tighten the prose and make the wording more concise.

However, when I looked at the resulting edits, I found that the same chunk of information was actually a few words longer than the former introduction. But wordy sections had been tightened, offering room for stronger world and character building.

Let’s take a look at the previous intro.

A lone dragoon pigeon flew over gently swaying trees. It had a very important mission, which could not be deterred. For on its back, in a tiny, dark green capsule, the pigeon carried a message for General Buford of the Queen’s Army.

It was an important message, as all messages sent via pigeon were. (Thus far, the prose feels stilted, because the sentences are fairly similar.)

The pigeon swept over a sleeping red dragon with harsh, glimmering scales, then skimmed through a squad of pterosaurs, quickly diving to avoid having its tail nipped as some scoundrel drake’s lunch. (Feels lengthy). A few minutes later, the pigeon arrived at a large wooden building that smelled of hay and feathers. The bird swooped into its loft, surpassed the landing board, then took roost in the one of the homing cages. It cooed, head held high and chest out, standing tall while it waited for the pigeon fancier to come take its message.

The pigeon ruffled its feathers proudly. A successful mission, to be sure.

After tightening the prose and adding voice, this was the result:

A lone dragoon pigeon with a very important mission flew between gently swaying trees. (I combined a couple sentences, and changed how the bird is flying in regards to the trees). It could not allow itself to be deterred. (Here we get that the pigeon is the one who does not want to be deterred… not that it can’t happen in general). For on its back—in a tiny, dark green capsule—the pigeon carried a message for General Buford of the Queen’s Army. (I’ve found that using the dashes help separate the thought better and adds flavor).

The message was of the utmost importance, as were all messages sent via pigeon. (I clarified “the message” instead of “it,” and changed the placement of “were” so that the sentence ends on a stronger visual word).

The bird swept over a sleeping red dragon with harsh, glimmering scales, then skimmed through a squad of pterosaurs. It dived, avoiding having its tail nipped by some scoundrel drake wanting an early lunch. (Early lunch helps imply that the pterosaur is acting out of bounds per the pigeon’s rules… (adds voice), and splitting the sentences adds urgency to the action).

A few minutes later, the pigeon arrived at a large wooden building. The musky scent of hay and feathers wafted through the air. (Splitting the sentences helps pacing, and we get a better visual). The bird swooped into its loft, surpassed the landing board, and then took roost in the one of the homing cages. It cooed, head held high and chest out, ruffling its feathers as it waited for the pigeon fancier to take its message.

A successful mission, to be sure. (I combined a couple sentences, slowing the pace a tad bit, but also cut needless repetition.)

Overall, I’m much happier with the latest edit. After tightening the prose and adding a bit more voice, the scene has a tiny bit more “pizazz.”

In one of my previous posts, “What does a serial episode need?” I included a list of traits I wanted to instill into each episode:

  • A strong sense of character, and relationships between characters. (The updated version includes a little more of the pigeon’s personality.)
  • Both humor and serious notes… usually involving some bit of quirkiness. (By adding more of the pigeon’s personality, we added the quirkiness.)
  • A strong sense of world-building. (This remained about the same for the intro, except that I tightened and condensed points. However, I suspect that I need to build on this further into this scene.)
  • Conflict and/or tension. (Will the pigeon deliver its message?)
  • A reasonable beginning, middle, and end. (This selection only shows the intro, but the end of the scene will show the pigeon flying off with a new message.)
  • Something that propels this episode into the next. (This isn’t seen in this particular section, but the end of the scene introduces Trish’s arrival coming in the next scene.)

I also re-read another post I wrote, “Creating Tension,” which reminded me to look into the scene and see if the tension and point of view lagged.

I hope you’ve found this post enjoyable. Have you found any tips for tightening your prose (even if it caused your word count to increase)? 🙂

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